At this Utah school, students helped shape a no-phone policy. And they like it.

Centennial Jr. High’s new policy incentivizes students to keep their devices away during class.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A student checks his phone after school lets out at Centennial Jr. High School in Kaysville on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023.

Today, almost everyone has a smartphone, and with evolving technology comes evolving distractions.

But at one Kaysville school, that’s not a problem teachers have to deal with. That’s because, this year, Centennial Jr. High School implemented a new no-cellphone policy that not only penalizes, but also incentivizes students to keep their phones and other smart devices away in class.

“The community and students were a huge part in putting this policy in place,” principal Merci Rossmango said in a video released by the Davis School District.

According to the policy, any time a student is caught with their cellphone or other smart device — such as smartwatches or AirPods — they’re issued a ticket and have to bring the device down to the school’s main office. Surrendered devices are then stored in a locked box, and the ticket is used to retrieve it.

Students can still use their devices before, after and in between classes, Rossmango explained in the video. After the first offense, students can pick their phone up after class. The second offense requires them to pick it up at the end of the school day. And three strikes means a parent has to pick it up after school.

Classes that have a clean record of having no devices taken away for a period of time are rewarded with ice cream parties and other prizes.

School administrators first brought the policy idea to parents and the school’s community council, Rossmango said in the video, and they were “100% all in.”

‘People have just connected more this year’

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The new cellphone policy at Centennial Jr. High School penalizes students who use their phones in class but also rewards classes with clean records.

So far, students seem to be on board with the policy, too.

“I thought it’d be really helpful not just intellectually, but socially,” Centennial Jr. High student Nisi said in the district video. “This has turned into lots of relationships and friendships, and people have just connected more this year.”

Another student in the video, Sadie, said it’s helped her focus more in class and with her grades, adding that “a lot of people are learning better now.”

That was the hope for parents like Cara Holladay, president of Centennial’s Parent Teacher Student Association, who told The Salt Lake Tribune that she knew it would be a big ask for students to comply with the policy.

“Our sweet kids these days have so many distractions, and so much time to be on screens,” she said. “We just felt like it was really important that, when they are in school, that they can be focused on school.”

Holladay said the policy had been “on the table” for about a year, and that parents and the school’s community council felt prohibiting cellphone use in class would help students “progress in their assignments and decrease their anxiety overall.”

Jessica McMillan, chair of the school’s community council, said that while having technology like smartphones in the classroom can be positive, it can sometimes do more harm than good.

Students already have laptops, she said, adding that “it’s better for us to teach them that technology is great, but there’s a time where you need to put it away.”

“I think when they developed this policy, it was kind of to put that in mind, of — how do we use our technology appropriately, and to the benefit of the student?” McMillan said.

‘It takes away that stigma’

(Farah Al Qasimi | The New York Times) A young person wearing a "Space Jam" hoodie uses a cellphone on May 11, 2021.

Holladay said that she’s heard teachers at community council meetings share that kids are being more social with not just each other, but with them, too.

At first, when other schools heard about the proposed policy, “they’d kind of laugh,” she said, “and be like, ‘Good luck with that, that’s not going to work.’”

“And the thing is that it is happening, and we have not received the pushback from parents like we thought we were going to,” she said, “or from students.”

Even so, a small group of students did “revolt” at first, taking turns using their phones in class, and getting them confiscated, she added. But after awhile, they stopped.

“When they realized all the teachers were on board, the administration was on board, that just kind of fell away,” she said.

In a statement, Davis School District spokesperson Christopher Williams said the district is “encouraged with the work being done at Centennial Junior High.”

“Creating learning spaces where cellphones are not a distraction to student learning is an important part of the work all schools do, and it requires the collective efforts of parents, staff, and school administration,” Williams wrote, adding the district will “continue to support all our schools as they work on their own school-level plans and procedures for student cellphone use.”

Rossmango, the school’s principal, declined a request for an interview with The Tribune in December, adding that she wanted gather more data on the policy’s efficacy before commenting.

But for students like Holladay’s son, Holladay said the policy has taken pressure off the seventh grader to fit in, especially since he doesn’t have a phone yet and “feels like everybody has one.” In fact, she said he hasn’t brought up wanting a phone as much since the start of the school year.

“It takes away that stigma,” she said of the policy. “It takes away that pressure because nobody’s doing it.”